North Texas Mean Green (5-6, 3-4) at UTEP Miners (3-8, 1-6)
Series Record: North Texas leads 14-7-3
Kickoff: 2 p.m Mountain Time
Streaming: C-USA TV ($)
Vegas says: North Texas -3, 52.5 O/U
20 UTEP seniors will play their final game in the Sun Bowl as UTEP ends their season Saturday afternoon.
It’s been a disappointing season, and a even more disappointing past two weeks with disheartening losses to teams at the bottom of the FBS ranks.
UTEP’s rushing game continues to struggle with consistency, but Aaron Jones is so good it’s been hidden.
The Miner offensive line only creates 99.1 yards per game which ranks 99th in the nation. While Jones is top-5 in the nation in total rushing yards.
The main question about UTEP’s rushing game this week is will this be the last time we see Aaron Jones in a UTEP uniform?
Jones will certainly receive some sort of NFL Draft grade for this coming spring, and Sean Kugler has said he will encourage Jones to do so.
Defensively, linebacker Alvin Jones, Nick Usher, and Dante Lovilette continue to produce.
Those three are UTEP’s leading tacklers, and give UTEP a respectable 4.4% havoc rate from their linebackers which rates 56th in the nation, and UTEP’s best defensive advanced metric mark.
North Texas comes in a little beat up on the injury front, but UTEP’s visitors from Denton have a lot to play for.
Head Coach Seth Littrell has shaken up the culture, and has the Mean Green 60-minutes away from bowl eligibility in his first year as head coach.
Even with an air-raid background, Littrell is doing it this year with solid defense, and a physical running game in his first year. Expect North Texas to develop into an offensive machine as Littrell recruits for his system in the coming years.
The Mean Green’s strength on defense is in their back seven, and could boast one of the top secondary unit’s in C-USA.
Junior defensive back Kishawn McClain is one of the top DB’s in the conference, and leads the Mean Green accounting for 11 percent of their total team tackles and also has three interceptions.
Fellow defensive back Nate Brooks picked off two passes last week, keeping their bowl hopes alive with some timely big plays, including a game sealing INT last week.
The Mean Green’s secondary ranks in the top-20 in the nation in havoc rate, and overall their defense has 6.4 percent sack rate on standard downs which ranks 37th nationally. Two major areas the UTEP offense has struggled to contain at times this year.
Offensively, North Texas is hoping for some good news health wise.
Star running back Jeffery Wilson will be out with an injury, while quarterback Mason Fine who has started nine games will be a game time decision.
Either way, Alec Morris is excepted to start at quarterback.
The former Alabama transfer threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns last week against Southern Miss.
North Texas runs a spread system, but they spread the love around in terms of touches, and it appears the run game opens up the success.
Wilson’s replacement, Willy Ivery ran for 118 yards on 18 carries last week.
Thaddeous Thompson, Terian Goree, and Kenny Buyers are North Texas’ top three targeted wideouts.
Each average over nine yards per catch, and will challenge UTEP’s secondary with their route running ability. Goree might the most explosive, but both Thompson and Buyers are reliable seniors.
With both teams on the opposite ends of postseason motivation heading into the final week, which UTEP team shows up is the big question in terms of how competitive this game could be.
Keys to a UTEP win
Make something happen on early downs
North Texas is one of the top teams in the nation when it comes to limiting you on early downs on the defensive side. If UTEP finds themselves in second, or third and longs, it will be another long offensive day in the Sun Bowl.
Take away North Texas’ run game
Without Wilson, Willy Ivery is the lone threat in North Texas’ run game. Ivery is a capable back, but if the Miners can take the run threat away, Tom Mason’s play calling can dictate UTEP’s defensive success against just the pass game.
Force a minimum of three turnovers
With UTEP’s offensive struggles, UTEP’s defense has to create momentum with turnovers, and if they want to win, UTEP needs their defense to come up big in this department. Its asking a lot, but UTEP’s main key to a win falls on the defense to flip position, or...maybe even put six on the board.
Its hard to tell which UTEP teams comes out on Saturday.
North Texas’ defense will be the major difference if the Miners come out flat on offense.
Here’s hoping to the Miners coming out fighting, but the damage may have already been done.
North Texas 29 UTEP 17